Amusement parks and carnivals have been used as the central locale for a great many horror movies due to their curious mix of merriment and mystery. As customers, we instantaneously put our safety in the hands of carnies and inexperienced ride attendants with little thought to the consequences if something were to go wrong. Dark rides and funhouses, in particular, are often spooky and visually phantasmagoric to begin with, but what is lurking in the darkness remains an unknown constant. With rubbery ghouls and dummies designed to pop out and startle around every corner, it would be mighty easy for a real psychopath to find his or her way into the bowels of the ride. Worse yet, no one would be the wiser if said unhinged individual began to knock off passengers, their real dead bodies intermingling with the props. Add the holiday of All Hallows' Eve to the mix, and all bets are off.
If 1981's high-tension, Tobe Hooper-directed slasher gem "The Funhouse
" represents one of the pinnacles of the subgenre, "The Funhouse Massacre" is, shall we say, of a lesser brethren. Director Andy Palmer and screenwriters Ben Begley and Renee Dorian prove they know their stuff when it comes to sly movie tributeseverything from 1985's "The Goonies" to 1988's "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
" are subtly referencedbut they have not quite mastered their tone. Do they want this to be a laugh riot? A scare-per-minute thriller? By trying to do both, they lessen the effectiveness of the screwball humor and the legitimate would-be jolts. The film, then, is more ambitious than successful, underusing its villains while juggling thinly developed, run-of-the-mill protagonists.
Horror icon Robert Englund (1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street
") brightens up the opening scenes, playing the warden of Statesville Mental Hospital, home to some of the most dangerous serial killers still living. When visiting journalist Ms. Quinn (Candice De Visser) reveals herself to not be who she says she is, the lunatic inmates are promptly unleashed upon the town just as Halloween night gets underway. Making their way into the funhouse of a local scare park, evangelist cult leader Mental Manny (Jere Burns), chef-turned-cannibal Animal (E.E. Bell), psycho clown Rocco (Mars Crain), homicidally good-looking Dr. Suave (Sebastian Siegel), and the master of human taxidermy (Clint Howard) prepare to paint the attraction's clientele in grisly shades of crimson. This is especially unfortunate for a group of college-aged restaurant workers (Renee Dorian, Matt Angel, Chasty Ballesteros, Sterling Sulieman) looking to party at the scare park. Meanwhile, two police officers (Ben Begley, Scottie Thompson) investigating a gruesome motel-room murder edge closer to the truth about the maniacal culprits responsible.
"The Funhouse Massacre" makes one eerily true observation about how easy it might be for murderous activities to be grievously misconstrued on the one night of the yearHalloweenwhen all bets are off. How can one tell the difference between a costume-wearing reveler playing a part and someone who is genuinely begging for his or her life? It is a disquieting notion, one this otherwise knowingly silly film probably doesn't earn. Director Andy Palmer brings a certain vibrant "Killer Klowns from Outer Space"-esque style to the proceedings, even as the script isn't quite in final shooting order. It wants to be a fun party movie, and achieves this off and on when the ploys to amuse aren't strained. A stronger recent dark horror-comedy of which this one somewhat reminds is another Scream Factory release, 2015's underrated "Gravy." "The Funhouse Massacre" holds a low-budget charm, but there is a better filmone that's cleverer, creepier, and more imaginatively utilizes its settingjust out of reach.